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A3 (read "À Trois," threesome) is a very nice album featuring Véronique Magdelenat (alto and soprano sax) and Luc Bouquet (drums) in a series of duets and trios. Boumag -- the name of their duo -- plays music rooted in jazz, both compositionally and improvisationally, but covers a lot of ground. Creative incursions into bop balladry are neighbors with free improvisations, and there is much in between. Magdelenat's writing recalls at times the great Steve Lacy, melodious and daring, while her playing adds roundness and gusto to his sound. Four duets are scattered in the track list, offering interludes between guests. Each of the four invited "third wheels" gets two rounds. The fierce playing of pianist Christine Wodrascka coerces Boumag into delivering all the energy it is capable of; "Si T'Es Pas Contente, Écris à Télé 7 Jours" (a translation would be "If You Aren't Happy, Write to TV Guide") stands as a highlight. Guitarist Rémi Charmasson and bassist Bernard Santacruz remain calmer, bringing out the jazzier side of the duo. "Aristide Gleubart, Docteur en Sophrologie Canine à Vitrolles" explores delicate microtonalities and is respectfully dedicated to American microtonal jazz pioneer Joe Maneri. "On Est Grand" ("We Are Tall"), including the bassist, provides another strong moment, a deeply felt ballad and one of Magdelenat's best themes. Raymond Boni's electric guitar moves in and out of ECM jazz with a few quirks rarely heard elsewhere. The two cuts with him on board return to free improv, bringing listeners full circle. In a little over an hour, A3 presents a two-headed unit definitely worth keeping an eye on, while showcasing some of the best names in modern-day French avant-garde jazz. A recommended listen.

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